John Konopak (Sgt, USAF, 1964-68)
ARE YOU READY for the GINORMOUS "Veterans' Day" Appliance, Winter Clothing, Carpet and Flooring, Used AND NEW car SALE! happening THIS weekend at a Mall near you?
Whilst you're out there shopping to save the economy, I'd like to say little something about "peace." And the celebration of National--hell, why stop there--INTERNATIONAL "Peace Day!" Eleven Eleven, from now on...
Remember that November 11, 1918 (the "11/11" we now recognize) was the date on which the Armistice ending the "Great War" was signed, officially ending the carnage that had lain waste to the best parts of France, Belgium, Holland, a lot of Italy, the Balkans, and a good chunk Russia and of the Middle East.
Literally, millions of people--soldiers and civilians--perished.
But on Nov. 11, 1918, the guns--which could be heard in England, though they were fired in France--fell silent for the first time in more than four, long, brutal, bloody, ruinous years--and that kind of dying stopped, if only for a while...
It was a MOMENTOUS day. People were WILD with joy, in capitals and villages across the continent. NOBODY in all of Europe escaped the consequences. Everyone knew or was related to SOMEONE who'd lost a limb, or a lung, or had been carried off in some bizarre charge into the teeth of the first machine guns across some blood-drenched, decay-filled, shit-soaked trench. During those years, more people had died than in any comparable period of time since the Black Plague. It was, they fervently hoped, the end of all that.
From our perspective, almost a century on, it's probably well to recall, in all honesty, that the last veterans who actually did give their all for 'freedom, liberty, apple pie and Chevrolet, have mostly already left us. All the WW I vets are gone, long since; a majority of the so-called "Greatest Generation" have already signed out, too.
Since then, we vets have largely been participants in America's "wars of choice" in Asia--Southeast AND Southwest--as well as those military efforts to prop up friendly regimes in this Hemisphere. We've done what we were told. But such honor as there is in that is somewhat vitiated in my mind by the costs inflicted upon the murdered and mutilaterd victims we left--and still are leaving--in our neo-colonialist/Imperialist wake.
So I think, if 11/11 were going to be a date for commemorating and memorializing, then it should be celebrated as International PEACE Day, since it was the day the "Great War" ended and "peace" returned (to Western Europe, anyway).
And NOW is a good time to start. None Better!
We've got ALL kinds of holidays honoring and celebrating the glorious military past of our Nation and the sacrifices of its military: Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Pearl Harbor Day, and now, perversely, also "9-11," too is draped in military regalia. If we were going to remember "veterans," these should be enough.
But there is NO day in our national calendar on which we actually celebrate the sceuclar phenomenon of "peace."
And I, for one, think Veteran's day, with its echoes of those silenced guns, should be it.
It's the time of the year when the "poppies" appear on the lapels of folks of the (former) British empire, in commemoration of the hundreds of thousands of lives which were spent in so ghastly a fashion in Flanders' fields. It should be a day on which we pledge NOT to repeat those awful lessons.
That's what seems to me to be forgotten amid all the patriotic/jingoistic folderol, to say NOTHING of the commercial hype attending the "official" holiday.
Dulce et Decorum Est
by Wilfred Owen
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
That last line? The Old Lie?
"It is sweet and good to die for your County."